BMCR 2006.06.41

Aeschines. De falsa legatione / On the false embassy. Studies in Classics, 31

, De falsa legatione = On the false embassy. Studies in classics ; v. 31. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005. ii, 114 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0773461485 $99.95.

It seems that Aeschines is finally emerging from the shadow of his more famous adversary, Demosthenes. Since the publication of Edward M. Harris’ important monograph in 1995 and Mervin R. Dilt’s definitive Teubner text in 1997,1 Chris Carey has provided a translation of all three speeches of Aeschines in the University of Texas Press series edited by Michael Gagarin,2 Nick Fisher’s translation and commentary of Aeschines’ first speech has appeared in the Clarendon Ancient History Series,3 and there has been a proliferation of translations and commentaries by continental scholars.4 The aim of this annotated translation by George L. Greaney of Aeschines’ second speech is to provide “a rhetorical focus based on insights of recent scholarship and earlier rhetorical studies as well as comments of ancient rhetoricians and scholiasts” (i).5

In this aim, Greaney generally succeeds. Each section of the speech is preceded by a short commentary (in a smaller font) putting it into its rhetorical context, and the translation is preceded by an outline of the plan of the oration, which serves as helpful signposting for the reader. Moreover, there are copious footnotes (not endnotes—hallelujah!), in which, as promised, he provides extensive commentary on the rhetorical features of the speech, explanations of his translations of particular words and phrases, and useful cross-references to the relevant passages in the ancient orators, rhetoricians, and scholiasts, as well as to works of modern scholarship. Through the running commentary of the notes, Greaney is able to illustrate concretely how the smooth and extemporaneous quality of Aeschines’ narration contributes towards the impression of believability and sincerity, a skill shared by the late Ronald Reagan (8).6 His highlighting of the rhetorical devices employed by Aeschines is very welcome, as this is an aspect of ancient oratory which does not always receive the attention that it deserves in modern commentaries.

In his translation (based on the Teubner text of Dilts), Greaney aims at “a rather colloquial register” (8). In comparison with Carey’s, however, which renders the Greek into readable and idiomatic modern English, Greaney’s translation comes off as more literal (not that this is a bad thing), but somewhat stilted in places.

For example, compare Greaney’s rendition of the first sentence of section 11 with the three other English translations of this speech.

Greaney: “Now in the face of a person’s exhibition of such reckless talent at telling tall tales, it’s difficult to accurately recall each of the things he said and speak while facing the danger of being on trial, having to address unforeseen slanders.”

Carey: “When a man displays audacity and trickery on this scale, it is difficult to remember what was said in detail and to reply while at risk to slanders one could not predict.”

A. N. W. Saunders (in the 1974 Penguin translation, now unfortunately out of print): “In facing this man’s unashamed and wild exaggeration it is difficult to recall every detail and to reply at my own risk to unpredictable defamation.”

C. D. Adams (in the 1919 Loeb volume): “When now a man has shown such trickery and effrontery, it is difficult even to remember every single thing, and in the face of danger it is not easy to answer unexpected slanders.”

Of the four, Greaney makes the biggest effort to capture the rhetorical quality of Aeschines’ original (he alone draws attention to the hendiadys τοσαύτην τόλμαν καὶ τερατείαν by rendering it into a single graphic expression and by preserving the alliteration of the Greek), but his translation is also the most awkward sounding (at least, to my ear).

Similarly, in reference to Demosthenes’ reaction to Philip’s lack of response to his speech at the end of section 38, Greaney again draws attention to the hendiadys in the sentence τοῦτο δὲ ἦν ἂρα ἀγχόνη καὶ λύπη τούτῳ by condensing it into a single memorable phrase: “Of course, this caused Demosthenes a stifling grief.” Carey, on the other hand, renders this sentence: “This brought him so much pain he nearly choked.” Saunders translates it as “this made him choke with exasperation,” while Adams’ translation leaves out of the idea of hanging/choking altogether (“and you may be sure that this was pain and anguish to him”). Again, while Greaney’s translation is the most literal and explicitly takes on the rhetoric of the original, it is also the least idiomatic.

Despite its occasional awkwardness, however, I do not mean to quibble with Greaney’s translation, for it is generally an accurate rendering of the Greek and its literal quality (particularly coupled with his explanations in the notes) conveys very well the rhetorical features of Aeschines’ argumentation.

In addition to the translation and running commentary, Greaney includes a short (mainly historical) introduction (1-5) and an even shorter introduction to the oration (7-8), as well as an appendix of persons and places in the speech, a general index, and a comprehensive and up-to-date bibliography. While the historical introduction is adequate for a translation intended to highlight the rhetorical qualities of the speech, the introduction to the oration itself is not. A discussion of the oratorical tradition in Athens and Aeschines’ place in it, as well as a fuller introduction to Aeschines’ style, methods of argumentation, and use of specific rhetorical devices would have provided an anchor for Greaney’s specific comments in the notes and would also have rendered this translation much more approachable to the Greekless reader with an interest in rhetoric. For the same reason, a glossary of the rhetorical terms liberally sprinkled throughout the commentary would have been a helpful addition (although, to be fair, it should be noted that many do receive definitions ad loc.). As for the appendix, the criteria for the inclusion of the names of people and places are not immediately apparent. One finds entries, as expected, for Philip and Demosthenes, and other contemporary politicians such as Eubulus and Philocrates, as well as figures from the past, such as Alcibiades, Aristides, Nicias, Themistocles, and the legendary Theseus. One wonders, however, at the logic for including names such as Ergochares, Eueratus, and Strombichus, about whom nothing further is known, while omitting the likes of Chares, Phocion, Phalaecus, and the Amphictyons, all of whom play a larger role both in Aeschines’ speech and in contemporary history.

This book would have benefited greatly from a firmer editorial hand. Of course, it is difficult to catch every typographical error or misprint, but there are some cases in which the errors are confusing (such as the inconsistent spellings of the names of Ptolemy of Alorus and Amyntas) or obscure the sense of the translation. Take, for example, Greaney’s translation of section 120: “And he was telling you that Cleochares of Chalcis remarked that he was amazed at the sudden concord between you and Philip—especially since we had been instructed to do whatever we might be able to do that was beneficial. And he told you that Chares meant that this was because the citizens of the small cities—like Chares himself—feared the secret dealings of the larger cities.” The references to Chares are jarring until one looks at the Greek and realizes that Greaney is attempting to make it clear that Cleochares is the subject of the (unexpressed) verb of speaking in the second sentence, representing a change in subject from the (expressed) verb of speaking of the first sentence 7, and the references to Chares are in fact intended to be to Cleochares.

On the whole, Greaney’s annotated translation, with its rhetorical focus, provides a useful addition to the recent resurgence of scholarly interest in Aeschines. But, while price is beyond the author’s control, one wonders who is going to purchase this translation of Aeschines’ second speech, when Carey’s translation of all three of the speeches, including extensive notes (albeit with a less rhetorical focus), can be obtained for a fraction of the price (the paperback version is currently listed on the University of Texas Press website for $14.71).


1. E. M. Harris, Aeschines and Athenian Politics (New York and Oxford 1995); M. R. Dilts, Aeschinis Orationes (Stuttgart and Leipzig 1997).

2. C. Carey, trans. Aeschines (Austin 2000).

3. N. Fisher, trans. Aeschines: Against Timarchos (Oxford and New York 2001).

4. A quick perusal of L’Année philologique reveals the following works (the relevant ones appear in Greaney’s bibliography): S. Fortuna, trans. Eschine: Contro Ctesifonte (Milan 1995); A. Natalicchio, trans. Eschine: Orazioni. Contro Timarco; sui misfatti dell’ambasceria (Milan 1998); T. Paulsen, Die Parapresbeia-Reden des Demosthenes und des Aischines (Trier 1999); and no fewer than three Spanish translations of Aeschines’ orations: J. Pallí i Bonet (Barcelona 1999), J. M. García Ruiz (Madrid 2000), and J. M. Lucas de Dios (Madrid 2002). A translation of Aeschines’ Against Ctesiphon is included in C. Bouchet’s translation of Demosthenes’ Philippics and On the Crown (Paris 2000).

5. The quotation is taken from the preface by Mervin R. Dilts. For a fuller explanation of Greaney’s aims, see his review of Carey: BMCR 2001.02.11.

6. Carey also compares Aeschines to Ronald Reagan (10), although the focus of his comparison is upon their relative lack of success in their first careers as actors.

7. Incidentally, Greaney mistranslates the verb at the beginning of the passage, ἔλεγον, as a third person singular (Demosthenes) rather than a first person singular (Aeschines himself).